Acme Comedy Co. celebrates 20 years

Famous comics credit Acme as a Midwest mainstay

Since that time, Mack has graduated to headliner and comes back around to headline the club once a year. As for the future of the Twin Cities comedy scene, Mack says it's only going to get stronger thanks to Acme's ability to let comics develop, just like she did.

"You can go see someone perform at Acme, then go on the road for three or four months and come back and see them again and they've gotten way better," she says. "It makes you feel like you need to work harder to keep up with them. That's what Acme does; it brings out the best in comics."

  

Acme veterans Mary Mack (left) and Tim Slagle, on stage as part of the 20-year anniversary celebration
Ryan Brennan
Acme veterans Mary Mack (left) and Tim Slagle, on stage as part of the 20-year anniversary celebration
The wall of Acme's green room features signatures from hundreds of comedians who have performed at the club, including such notables as Retta of NBC's Parks & Recreation, former SNL cast member Finesse Mitchell, and Comedy Central Roast regular Anthony Jeselnik
Ryan Brennan
The wall of Acme's green room features signatures from hundreds of comedians who have performed at the club, including such notables as Retta of NBC's Parks & Recreation, former SNL cast member Finesse Mitchell, and Comedy Central Roast regular Anthony Jeselnik

IT'S NIGHT TWO OF ACME'S ANNIVERSARY celebration, and this evening features a lineup of comedians who started performing at the club when it first opened back in the early '90s.

One of tonight's featured acts is Tim Slagle, a conservative right-wing comic who holds the record for most headlining appearances in Acme's history. Though not a Minnesota native, Slagle quickly found Acme to be like a home away from home during his early career.

"I was dying to work in Minnesota because my stuff was political and edgy, and I thought this was a good place for my type of comedy," Slagle says. "Unfortunately, the powers that be at the time locally didn't find me amusing, so it was tough to get booked."

Luckily for him, there was a new club in town that was open to his brand of comedy.

"They loved me here right away," he says. "I impressed them enough that first time and was invited back pretty regularly from that point on."

Something would happen, however, that would both put Slagle at odds with the club, and endear him to the owner at the same time.

"You see, in those days Louis wanted someone else to be the face of the club," Slagle begins. "I think it was the third time I came back here, I wrote a new bit about names you can call men but can't use the equivalent of when talking with women. The woman who was working the front of the house was horrified and didn't want to bring me back. I ended up showing the bit to Louis, and two things came out of that meeting: He didn't see a problem with it so I wasn't barred from the club, and from that point the other manager wasn't given exclusive booking rights anymore."

Slagle would continue to frequent Acme over the next few years, steadily building a following in the Twin Cities. However, that wouldn't be the last time Slagle caused controversy.

"I did a show one night where I set the record for most walk-outs," he proudly remembers. "And I'm not talking about walking out 90 people. There was something like 270 when the show started and 27 by the time I got off stage."

The reason for the mass exodus: former Minnesota Sen. Walter Mondale.

"The weekend before that election, I told a joke where I said, 'Mondale? Isn't he dead too?' That weekend, the crowd laughed. The Saturday after, it was like a cancerous silence," Slagle recalls. "I just couldn't get them back at that point, and more and more of them kept leaving. By the end of my set, I started asking the few people left what they were still doing there."

The backlash didn't end with that show, as the angry audience headed outside and told the late-show crowd that they should save their time and head home. The evening had turned into a certified disaster for Acme, which lost a great deal of money as a result of the episode.

While many businesses likely would have blackballed Slagle for his antics, Lee saw it differently. "He thought it was funny," Slagle laughs. "I apologized profusely, but Louis just said he thought people needed to get a sense of humor about it."

For the remainder of Slagle's residence at Acme, audience members for his shows were required to sign waivers acknowledging that the performance may touch on controversial topics and advising those not prepared for his brand of comedy to turn back.

Since that time, Slagle has continued to perform an average of twice a year at Acme, offering jokes divergent from those of liberal comedians. That perspective is on fine display during his set this night, as he manages to polarize the crowd with some solid jabs at President Obama.

But whether you agree with his political views or not, it's tough to disagree with Slagle when he describes the comedic environment Acme provides, allowing him a platform to display his art form.

"You go to 99 percent of the clubs in the country, and you'll see that they look at comedy as sort of the meatballs at a happy-hour buffet," he says. "They use it to bring people in and sell them drinks. Acme isn't like that; they treat comedy like an art form and advertise it the same way. When you come to see a show at Acme, you're coming for the comedy."

IT'S THE FINAL NIGHT, and the crowd files in for an early show that features national headliners Doug Benson, Jackie Kashian, Ryan Stout, and Dwight Slade. One of the faces in the crowd is Andy Erikson, an up-and-coming local comic who frequents Acme's open-mic night and serves as a regular feature at the club. She performed earlier in the week during a showcase that featured the next generation of Acme comics. But tonight she's just another comedy fan.

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